Over and over as a mother, I find myself being called on as a parent to respond to my child in challenging moments. Whether it was navigating the terrible twos (threes were harder!!) to staring at a child in a full tantrum, to finding the words to console my son, disappointed after a game or practice, I am always searching for the right thing to say to support my child.
Too often my instinct has been to fix their problems, to console them after a loss, to tell them everything will be ok, to make an excuse or to tell them how to fix it. But really, when I watch them quietly from a distance, what I most want is for them to find within themselves the answers to grow up to be resilient men - to overcome losses, to see adversity as a challenge, to use the loss as an opportunity to find out what they can do better. In any given moment, it is difficult to find the right words to highlight those areas for growth, especially when my child is disappointed. I ask them why?, and when their answer is is a shrug, or different than what I am expecting, or lacks the insight that I see, it can be too easy to deflate them - to detract them from their experience further with judgment or correction.
Positive Coaching Alliance has wonderful resources to help parents navigate these moments with our children, our athletes engaged in sports. Like any parenting book or resource, some parts are really useful to you right now when you need them, and some don't seem to be relevant to your child or perhaps quite your style. But one phrase, one sentence starter stands out to me - to make my son see their answers within themselves, to find what they can control to own their solutions. While you are at a loss for words, searching for that great parenting support your child needs, it helps to just start a sentence with "I know you are the kind of person who... “ This can help you find the attributes you want your children to see in themselves.
For example, your child misses the game-winning penalty kick. Perhaps they are disappointed, mad, embarrassed. Perhaps, and rightly so, they just need quiet space in the car ride to sit with that moment and you shouldn't say anything. Maybe you tried saying "I love watching you play" but it really doesn't address the struggle. Try finishing the sentence, "I know you are the kind of person who....." and see what follows. I know you are the kind of person who can recover from missing the shot.... can brush that loss off and start fresh.... who works hard to practice their shots and that your teammates know that about you, and we all miss shots sometimes, but I know that you, more than most people, can turn that miss into something to learn about yourself and that the next time you practice you can turn the energy of disappointment into the energy of effort and learning to get better and better." “I know that you are the kind of person who is brave enough to take that shot… and I know that you are the kind of person who is brave enough to take that shot again, and again, and again and again.”
It can apply to other situations as well:
"None of my teammates are passing to me!!!"
“That can be so frustrating, but I know you are the kind of person who can come back and pass and support your team and improve yourself and be patient for those passes to come to you.”
“I didn't get to play in goal today!"
“I know you like to play in goal - that was disappointing. But I know you are the kind of person who practices those positions you want to play, and that you can ask your coach if you can train or play goalie at practice.”
I still often stand there at a loss. I say things as a coach and a parent that I regret - that makes me cringe a little - we all do. But I know we are the kind of parents who want the best for our kids, who drive them to practices and games, who want them to grow up to be strong and successful and balanced people. I know we are the kind of parents, coaches, and administrators who will keep trying to find these answers together.
In Jim Thompson’s video, Youth Sports as a Development Zone®, learn more about this and all these aspects of Positive Coaching to create character building experiences for our kids.